Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Would Be Devastating For Kids Like My 6-Year-Old Trans Son

“How can a kid that young understand this stuff?” asked a family member who was struggling to understand how I could support Maxim, my 6-year-old transgender son, in living as the person he truly is.

How can a first grader understand gender? I don’t know that they really do ― but isn’t that the whole point? Maxim instinctively knew he was a boy and not a girl. He didn’t have to understand the construct of it because it was what he felt ― it’s just who he knows he is.

Our family member came around in support of Maxim, as did most people in his life, including his educators. Here in Central Florida, we had an amazing, supportive conversation with school officials who sought to provide Maxim with his right to a public education in a safe and happy environment.

I wonder what would have happened if Florida House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill ― or, as we opponents call it, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill ― existed last year when my Maxim began to live as the gender he truly is and not the one he was assigned at birth. The legislation, which has already passed in Florida’s House, bans discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with any student in kindergarten through third grade “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

With this bill enacted, what would have happened to the tremendous support we received from Maxim’s teacher, guidance counselor and other school officials? How would this have changed the way his teacher reintroduced him to his classmates when he returned after the Labor Day weekend with his new name and a gender-affirming haircut?

Maxim is learning about the world right now, the proverbial sponge soaking in all the lessons from history to science, math to Martin Luther King Jr. He even came home with a goodie bag from a dentist who visited their classroom and taught the children about good oral hygiene.

Children in kindergarten through third grade who are in this “sponge phase” are also at the perfect age to learn the many colors of the rainbow ― that people come in all kinds of shades and shapes and sizes and, yes, genders ― because they don’t have the biases that adults do. They learn their bias and hate from their parents and the other adults in their environments.

Maxim pushes his sister on a swing. "He stepped into the role of 'big brother' naturally," his mother says.
Maxim pushes his sister on a swing. “He stepped into the role of ‘big brother’ naturally,” his mother says.

Courtesy of Judith Schmidt

The mother of one of my son’s classmates told me she shared with her daughter about Maxim living as his true self. She explained that he is a boy and would go by Maxim from now on. Her response? “OK, cool.”

From what I understand, my son’s transition didn’t seem to really be a big deal at all to any of the kids because to them … it wasn’t a big deal. They liked Maxim before he came out and they still liked him after.

For my son, it meant everything. Immediately with his transition, Maxim became his whole self. Seven months after he initially told me that he was a boy and wanted (needed, really) to live his life as one, he is a happier and more engaged child. He gives more hugs. He still enjoys friendships with the other children.

It wasn’t all easy. Some neighbors with children around the same age as ours told us they felt it best we don’t hang out anymore. “We think our daughter will ask too many questions,” the mother texted my husband. But why is asking questions a bad thing? And who doesn’t want to deal with the truth of the answers to those questions? My guess is that it’s not our neighbor’s daughter.

What’s more, who is hurt by having a discussion about gender identity at school? And which discussions are “appropriate” and which aren’t? Are children with same-sex parents not allowed to talk about their family? Are kids like Maxim not allowed to be who they are? With a bill like “Don’t Say Gay” enacted, would trans kids even be allowed to be in classrooms?

Is this really about the children? Or, again, is it about the adults who aren’t comfortable with members of the LGBTQ+ community? Is it about adults who don’t want it discussed at school because they won’t discuss it at home, either, where bill supporters suggest it should only be discussed?

This is one more reason we need to “Say Gay” (and support every other part of the LGBTQ+ rainbow) in schools: because there are a great number of parents who will not have these discussions ― at home or anywhere else. There are parents who will not teach the beauty in diversity. They will pass down their close-minded beliefs to their children, and another generation will rise with hate in their hearts. Then the cycle rinses and repeats. What’s more, imagine if you are an LGBTQ+ child who isn’t fortunate enough to have an affirming family or home life. Without support at school, these children will have nowhere to be ― much less learn about ― themselves, and that isolation comes with very real consequences.

The Trevor Project believes connectedness to safe schools is one way to reduce the risk of suicide among LGBTQ+ youth. Maybe our government isn’t thinking about the future of all our children, but I am, and LGBTQ+ youth have a higher rate of suicide in their teens and 20s. Sharing gender identity is a small way to normalize and encourage acceptance of humans like my son.

The author and her husband, Michael. "We're aligned in the support and advocacy for Maxim and transgender children’s rights," she says.
The author and her husband, Michael. “We’re aligned in the support and advocacy for Maxim and transgender children’s rights,” she says.

Courtesy of Judith Schmidt

I am deeply dismayed with our state government. Of all the things legislation could fix or help in Florida’s education system, I am baffled by this fight. Why are they concentrating on hurting children instead of helping them? Silencing discussions about LGBTQ+ people and history doesn’t make them go away, it just makes it harder for them to live healthy and happy lives, which seems like the cruel point of all of this. It’s not about what’s best for the kids ― regardless of what their gender or sexual orientation is ― it’s about what these close-minded adults want. The kids are just pawns in their political games.

Ignoring the fact that kids feel gender from the earliest ages doesn’t make sense. We don’t try to quiet cisgender kids from showing who they truly are, so why should we silence LGBTQ+ kids?

My husband and I did teach Maxim about gender identity and the gender spectrum at home after he came out to us. We taught him pride, and we told him we would support him, no matter what.

It’s a shame that our government thinks my son is a threat to the “upbringing and control” of his classmates.

We prefer to think his transition provided a unique and very real opportunity to reinforce the beauty in the diversity of all people. We hope every child ― regardless of who they are ― can have the chance to grow up exactly as they are, and we want them to be safe and supported to do it at home, at school or wherever they might find themselves. Is that really such a radical thing to ask?

Judith Schmidt started her career as a reporter, columnist and editor in southern New Jersey. She also served as editor and owner of the beauty blog BeautyJudy.com for more than a decade. She is currently a corporate communications leader and a freelance writer. Schmidt graduated from Rowan University (Glassboro, New Jersey) with a bachelor’s in journalism and a master’s in writing. She lives in Florida with her husband, transgender son and her daughter. In addition to advocating for transgender children’s rights, she roots for the Philadelphia Eagles, enjoys a good bowl of pho, and spends her spare time reading, crocheting or visiting Orlando theme parks. She can be reached at jschmidtwrites@gmail.com.

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